Monday, April 11, 2011

The Survey: Go Local

Over the course of the past few years, I've increasingly emphasized local examples of national themes, whether they be turn of the century remnants of the Progressive Era, concrete remains of the New Deal, or mid-century modernist ruins. St. Louis lends itself particularly well to such a project, as the 1904 World's Fair illustrates. Oft-remembered for its celebration of progress, the Fair also became embroiled in a battle between Anglo-elites on the city's western frontier and German immigrants downtown. Immigrants demanded that portions of the Fair be held in their neighborhoods, a position that elites rejected because they didn't want visitors strolling through immigrant tenements, beer gardens, and vice districts. Instead, they opted for a sterile park-like setting near the exclusive, gated, Central West End, an ironic counterpoint to the Progressive fascination with assimilating immigrant communities. For students who drive by the park all the time, the local story helps bring home the lesson. Further, local archives possess incredible reserves of digitized photographs, obviating the need to employ tired images that students have seen in textbooks since high school.

Photo credit: Missouri History Museum